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News ꠠ 24 January 2010
Book Review - An Illuminating Experience
The author’s story begins in 1966 at a time when oil lights were rotated by a hand-wound clockwork mechanism and keepers handled explosive fog signals. Little did the author realize that he would witness, and become part of, a new technological age that would leave unmanned lighthouses being operated by remote control via telemetry links to a computer, and satellite information provided by GPS.
His 22 postings around the coasts of England, Wales and Channel Islands brought him to off-shore lighthouses, such as the famous Needles Rock at the Isle of Wight, where the men were confined to just a handful of circular rooms, to those located on beautiful islands such as Lundy in the Bristol Channel where the accommodation was more comfortable.
Isolated lighthouses and their keepers were often in a position to assist the rescue services and the author describes how he became involved in two hazardous rescue operations for which he was awarded the Royal Humane Society bronze medal.
With the onset of automation, it was frequently necessary for keepers to share their already-cramped living space with various contractors who were there to install the specialised equipment, creating friction between the two groups. The fact that ultimately, the result was the keepers’ redundancy did not help.
Gordon Medlicott’s book is of great interest to any pharophile, and for us Australians, the most interesting parts will surely be the description of his life at Longstone or Needles just because we do not have any such wave - swept lighthouses here.
While he had a family with two daughters, they rarely lived with him at the lighthouse and even the chance of spending Christmas together was only 50/50. It is obvious that Gordon missed his family but his job was very important and the first priority to him. Maybe that’s why his women are rarely mentioned in the book and when they are, the author does not give us any insight about how they coped with living apart from him. Still, he has no regrets.
“Looking back over my career with Trinity House I have few regrets. Although my children grew up without me and I was away from home at some critical and important stages of their lives, I did the job with their blessing and for that I thank them.”
The book is descriptive of the places, situations and people without giving away too much emotionally. Although there are tantalising glimpses of drama or conflict situations, the reader is never let in enough, and the events are described in a dry, almost detached manner.
While I would have welcomed a little bit more personal writing approach, I still recommend the book for its informative value which gives us an idea of how life used to be for those working at such remote and wild places at such a critical time.
An Illuminating Experience tells the fascinating story of a way of life that has become a part of our maritime heritage.
Review by Denise Shultz
and Whittles Publishing
In Australia the book can be ordered from Inbooks. Locked Bag 535
Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086
"To The Lighthouse"
In the early stages of imagining her film “South Solitary”, writer-director Shirley Barrett visited Cape Nelson lighthouse. Shirley’s new script, a story about love and loneliness, was to be set in a light-station on a remote island in 1927.
Cape Nelson was one of many light-stations Shirley visited on her whistle-stop tour of Lighthouses of Australia. The script called for an historically intact, but easily accessible light station, with Keepers’ cottages, rugged coastline… And bad weather!
Cape Nelson seemed to have it all.
Five years on, in November 2009, andd having rejected numerous other locations around the world, Shirley found herself back in Portland with a cast, crew and completed script, ready to commence shooting her new Australian drama.
The film was s cheduled for a November shoot to take advantage of Cape Nelson’s infamous “four seasons to a day” weather. Armed with wet-proof gear, tarps, waterproof camera covers and the hardiest cast and crew she could muster, Shirley prepared (and hoped) for the worst…
Preparations were exhaustive. The lighthouse and exterior walls were dusted with ageing paint. Carpet tiles and electrical fittings were removed from the cottages, while animal fences and corrugated water tanks were installed around them. All were faithfully reproduced from archival photographs of an era when oil lamps and pigeon post were the only mod-cons, and physical contact with the outside world depended on the mood of the ocean.
The crew settled in to Portland life in sundry hotels, motels, B & Bs and holiday homes, and swelled in number with the inclusion of many locals as support crew, art department assistants, unit nurses, security guards, actor stand-ins, extras and pigeon-wranglers. The celebrated Ottos (Barry and Miranda) and other stellar cast members became local Portland identities. The town embraced one and all.
Yet the sun shone down!
Tension began to mount. Before long, everyone was on tenterhooks. The crew stood poised to capture the tempests and gales, the storms and swells that had been promised.
But still, the sun shone down!
The locals wondered what dark magic was afoot. “It’s never like this in November!” was the mantra in Mac’s Hotel Front Bar.
Sweltering in their heavy costumes and doing their best “foul weather acting” the hardy cast battled on. Thank goodness for the Special Effects Department and their Instant Deluge machine. Behind the scenes the crew continued to consult meteorologists, sea dogs, and fortune–tellers, sure that the weather must yield, eventually, to their collective will…
And yield it did. One week after the production had moved on to Cape Otway Lightstation (to shoot lamp room interiors), the heavens finally opened! Too late for us, but in perfect time to drown 5000 cyclists in their tiny tents, as they awaited the start of the Great Victorian Bike Ride.
Nevertheless, Shirley shot her film and the Cape Nelson lighthouse shone – appearing in almost every scene - in its full magnificence. Although the weather may have failed us, the lighthouse itself provided a perfect backdrop for what promises to be one of the most eagerly-awaited new Australian films of 2010.
Art Director, South Solitary
address for LoA Inc
Lighthouses of Australia Inc (LoA Inc) has a new mailing address. Please update your address books as the PO Box at Geelong will only have a redirection on it for a few months.
The list of Australian lighthouse books is gradually being expanded as more items come to light (excuse the pun!). If you know of any other books, let us know.
A selection of authoritative and official links to Australian lighthouse websites has been put together. Suggestions for additional links can be forwarded to LoA Inc.
The Lighthouse Accommodation page has been updated - there are now more than 20 lighthouses around Australia you can stay at or nearby.
Note: LoA Inc is happy to promote these lighthouse getaway locations on our site, but please note that we do not have any involvement with bookings for accommodation. All arrangements must be made directly with the management of the lighthouse location that you are interested in.
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